In the wake of Howard Eskin's speculative report on Channel 10 Sunday night, saying Brian Westbrook's left knee is in such bad shape that he might not pass a physical with another team, and that Westbrook is unlikely to have a future with the Eagles, so he might retire, we've heard a chorus of responses through various media. Everyone I've read or heard is saying something like "that wouldn't surprise me."
Well, right now, it would kinda surprise me.
First off, alllow me my perfunctory lament that we live in an age where somebody says something on a TV show -- without citing Westbrook or the Eagles as a source -- and instantly, everyone else has to analyze this "development" as if it were established fact.
OK, now on to the report itself. Westbrook's left knee has shadowed his career, since he first tore it up playing basketball at DeMatha High. The left knee is the reason Westbrook played collegiately at Villanova, instead of Florida or Virginia Tech or Penn State.
But nothing happened to Westbroook's knee this season. As far as we know, it is no worse than it was a year ago, when he and the Eagles thought he was going to be the team's principal back in 2009. Westbrook's season was crippled by ankle and concussion problems. We saw, briefly in two games before the first concussion, that a sharp, nonrusty Westbrook could still function very effectively. His left knee did not prevent that.
Also, I'm pretty sure this didn't come from Westbrook directly, because there is no one in the local media he is really tight with. That's just the way he is; I've never quite understood it, and at this point, I doubt I ever will. But if Brian Westbrook is thinking about hanging it up, he is the most unlikely player on the team to blab that around to anybody.
The report sounded to me like maybe what Eagles management HOPES will happen -- though an Eagles spokesman told me Monday that he is unaware of Westbrook seeking medical opinions on his knee, or contemplating retirement. If the Eagles have a role for Westbrook in 2010, it is as a complement to an emerging LeSean McCoy. There are two huge obstacles to that happening -- the team owes Westbrook $7.5 million this coming season, way more than it is likely to pay for parttime work, and McCoy, unfailingly deferential to Westbrook as a rookie, only seemed to shine when Westbrook was completely out of the picture. If Westbrook was active, McCoy seemed to gear down.
So there is excellent reason to doubt Westbrook's future with the Eagles, as everyone has said and written since the season ended last week. If you're the Eagles, you really don't want another one of those messy, angry departures by a team icon. The cleanest course would be a quick Westbrook retirement, well before the draft and free agency for planning purpose, with nobody calling you cheap or heartless this time.
The Brian Westbrook I know is a courageous competitior, though, and an ornery guy. To meekly shuffle off into retirement because that course fits the team's agenda? Not the guy that decided to boycott the start of training camp in 2005 without even telling his then-agent. Not the guy who denounced management from the NovaCare stage during a news conference when he was angry about his contract. I don't see Westbrook giving up on his career, at age 30, without a fight.
I don't know what's going on with Westbrook's left knee, but I do know this: No. 36 is the only person in the Delaware Valley who has any idea whether he will retire or not. When he says it, I'll believe it. But I'm not going to hold my breath.